By Alix Cohen, Cabaret Scenes

Carole J. Bufford is a red-hot mama with the moves of a lead dancer and the class of a chanteuse. There’s nothing she likes better than presenting 1920s and 1930s music with a gleeful wink. This seasonal show, the artist tells us, is about love and lust with a nod to materialism—“cause that’s all Valentine’s Day is.”

“I Wanna Be Loved” (Johnny Green/Edward Heyman/Billy Rose) elongates its tease, the word “kisssssed” verging on palpable. To call Bufford’s arms expressive is like saying a Rolls Royce is the family jalopy. “Walking My Baby Back Home” (Fred E. Ahlert/Roy Turk, arrangement Larry Lees) arrives with a tap tempo. The vocalist cherry picks her audience’s eyes and connects with them.

All other superb arrangements are by both MD/pianist Ian Herman and Carole J. Bufford. The collaborators are equal and symbiotic, two extremely talented musicians who respect, support, and also make way for one another—a combination of generosity and skill one rarely sees.

Rupert Holmes’ “Queen Bee” from the Streisand version of A Star is Born infiltrates with nasal, um hum punctuation and emphatic downbeat: “The black, black widow is sittin’ in the middle of the web/It’s the fly she seeks/You may be her lover but you never will recover/ ‘Cause she ain’t had a bite for weeks.” Herman’s brazen piano and Jerry DeVore’s groovin’ bass (watch that head swivel!) aid and abet. Bufford whip-snaps lyrics.

“The Spinach Song” (Bill Gordon/Johnny Gomez) is about as double entendre as it gets: “I used to run from the stuff/Now I can’t get enough/oh, how it grew on me!” Bufford half purrs, half growls. “It Makes My Love Come Down” (Bessie Smith) swings. The piano is so hot, it’s cool. The bass twangs; the performer sways, dips, leans out, and prances. As Rudyard Kipling wrote, “The captain’s lady and Rosie O’Grady are sisters under the skin.”

Two contemporary songs fit with their elders. “If I Didn’t Know Better”—“I’d hang my hat right there/If I didn’t know better, I’d follow you up the stair” (Arum Rae/John Paul White), emerges cat-like from the kind of Sam Spade shadows where you see curling cigarette smoke before a strappy high heel and seamed-hose leg. Bufford sizzles. “Circus” (Gary Clark/ John Carney from cable television’s Modern Love) is hushed recollection. Bowed bass and break-your-heart piano support the palpable longing.

A tandem “Won’t You Come Over” (Lee Holmes/Julia Lee) and “Hurry On Down” (Nellie Lutcher) bring out the Georgia girl in Bufford. Her smooth, a cappella opening erupts into fabulous ragtime. A hard, fast, neat piano is joined by plucked and slide-hand bass. Bufford’s eyes expand. On the other end of the spectrum fall melodic renditions of “A Hundred Years from Today” (Victor Young/Joe Washington/Joe Young) and “Two for The Road” (Henry Mancini/Leslie Bricusse.) Drummer Daniel Glass’ circling brushes lull.

Materialistic attitude is represented by the Daddy Medley: “Daddy” (Bobby Troup), “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” (Cole Porter), and “Sugar Daddy” (Ray LaMontagne). Here come the hips, crinkled nose, batted eyelashes, raised brows, tipped shoulders and flashes of “I-know-what-I’m-doing” kewpie doll. With her vocal control, stage presence, and innuendo—does anyone do it better?!

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